Climate Change and Its Impact on Health

Tiffany Lo-Art in Tanzania Internship

Climate change has a big impact on the environment and health. Africa is projected to have an increase of surface temperatures at a faster rate than the global average (Pasquini, 2020). Temperature increases have been linked to increasing mortality and morbidity, and marginalized groups, such as those who are economically disadvantaged, appear to have higher heat-related morbidity and mortality (Pasquini, 2020). Climate change also makes extreme weather more frequent and intense, which can lead to desertification of fertile land and rising sea levels (How Climate Change Drives Humanitarian Crises, 2021). Conflict also tends to increase when a drought results in food shortages, which worsens the impact of economic crises that can result from a variety of causes, such as the COVID-19 pandemic (How Climate Change Drives Humanitarian Crises, 2021). As such, mitigating the effects of climate change is vital to improving health.

Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns also worsen the spread of vector-borne diseases, such as dengue and malaria (How Climate Change Drives Humanitarian Crises, 2021). Currently, new diseases are emerging in regions where they previously did not exist (United Nations Climate Change, 2020). A lack of access to clean water due to drought would also lead to higher incidence of diarrhea, which is a major cause of death for children under the age of five (How Climate Change Drives Humanitarian Crises, 2021). With the destruction of ecosystems, climate change could have a great impact on the occurrence of viruses like COVID-19, which emerges from animals (How Climate Change Drives Humanitarian Crises, 2021).

Climate change also negatively impacts food security, which would worsen health (United Nations Climate Change, 2020). In drought-prone sub-Saharan Africa countries, the number of undernourished people have increased by 45.65% since 2012 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) (United Nations Climate Change, 2020). As agriculture accounts for the majority of livelihoods in Africa, the impacts of drought, increased pest and disease damage as well as flooding would negatively impact livelihoods and health as a result due to decreasing food security and income (United Nations Climate Change, 2020).

Some groups are more impacted by climate change (Pasquini, 2020). Age influences sensitivity to heat, especially in groups such as the elderly and young (Pasquini, 2020). People with underlying health issues such as chronic respiratory and cardiovascular diseases are also more sensitive to heat (Pasquini, 2020). Water quantity also impacts sensitivity to heat, as drinking enough water is important for efficient thermoregulation (Pasquini, 2020). As mentioned previously, climate change leads to drought, and without access to water, it is plausible that already vulnerable groups would become even more sensitive to the possibility of dehydration, heat-related illnesses, and potentially water-borne diseases (Pasquini, 2020).

It is of upmost importance that the negative impact of climate change is reduced in order to improve health. Africa has made great efforts in driving the global climate agenda, with over 90% of the countries ratifying the Paris Agreement, and many African countries have committed to transitioning to green energy within a short time frame (United Nations Climate Change, 2020). Climate change has a big negative impact on health, and reducing its impact through means of clean energy and reducing poverty by promoting socioeconomic growth is vital to improving health (United Nations Climate Change, 2020).

References:

Pasquini, L., van Aardenne, L., Godsmark, C. N., Lee, J., & Jack, C. (2020). Emerging climate change-related public health challenges in Africa: A case study of the heat-health vulnerability of informal settlement residents in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The Science of the total environment, 747, 141355. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.141355

How climate change drives humanitarian crises. (2021, April 22). Retrieved from https://www.rescue.org/article/how-climate-change-drives-humanitarian-crises

United Nations Climate Change. (2020, October 27). Climate Change Is an Increasing Threat to Africa. Retrieved April 28, 2021, from https://unfccc.int/news/climate-change-is-an-increasing-threat-to-africa

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